When I was approached to write on this topic, I was surprised but flattered at the same time. Before we get into it, let me take a moment to introduce myself. I am Unoma Nwankwor, a native of Akron, Ohio born of Nigerian parents. I’m well-grounded in my Nigerian heritage and also embrace my American citizenry. My novels are a fusion of three things I absolutely am devoted to: my faith, romance, and my culture. Whether I’m writing a blog post or weaving tales, these three themes are always present. My goal is simple: to entertain, edify, and educate people about Christ and my culture.
In every interview I’ve done - no really every interview - I’m always asked, “How did you penetrate into the market?” In my naïveté, I’ve always answered, “OH by just networking and allowing the quality of my work to speak for itself.” This answer, while true to some extent, only works for a select audience. The only audiences I’ve been able to reach are African Americans and Africans. And that is not for a lack of trying to gain ground with Caucasian readers.
I was and still am an avid reader. My genres of choice are romance and Christian fiction. My favorite romance authors are Brenda Jackson, Danielle Steele, Francis Ray, and Nora Roberts. To me, whether you’re white or black, you can write about the universal language of love. As long as the story is appealing, I’m buying. Now as an author trying to sell books, I’d be naïve to have this same outlook when it comes crossing over to a wider audience.
Let’s take a closer look at Christian fiction. From God’s perspective, we are the human race. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. Genesis 1:26. That’s what God had in mind when He formed us in His image. Time and history have separated us across, distance, skin pigmentation, cultures, and experiences. While society and religion (not Christianity) has in some ways broadened the divide.
Let’s go with the premise that more than 80% of the CF readers know Christ Jesus, meaning they’ve accepted His salvation. So they also know that there is only one God, and the only way to Him is through the Son, Jesus Christ. Okay, we agree? So let’s hold that thought.
Christian fictional stories are basically parables. Tales woven to convey a deeper teaching of the Gospel. Francine Rivers explains it this way, “the goal is to have the reader experience God’s Truth through story – to challenge, convict, encourage. The purpose of Christian fiction is to whet readers’ appetite for a close relationship with Jesus”
Now let’s put the two together. Most Christian fiction readers know there is only one God and human race, and they are all looking to be challenged, convicted, and encouraged through fiction. We agree? So here is the question: Should it matter if a black person or a white person wove the tale? The resounding answer you’ll get should be NO but is that the truth?
Here is the truth: The racial divide in Christian Entertainment is a reflection of the society we live in. The sad thing is that when it comes to Christian fiction, this divide started in the church. This is why we hear phrases like “the white people’s church” or “the black church”. We as the body of Christ are just supposed to be THE CHURCH. We have however, through history and experience, allowed this world to penetrate into the Kingdom of God. We are supposed to be IN this world but not OF it.
This separation mindset was picked up by publishing houses, bookstores, and publicists a long time ago, giving birth to niche marketing. So works of art are labeled, and each category is put in its neat corner, and readers have become used to their familiar circle of authors. As we know, humans tend to navigate to what they are familiar with. The fear that surrounds stepping outside our comfort zone into unfamiliar territory is real, and this spills over to things of the kingdom.
My hope is that if a reader’s desire is to experience God’s Truth through story – to challenge, convict, encourage - then it shouldn’t matter who wrote it.
Born in Akron, Ohio to Nigerian parents, Unoma Nwankwor is a multi-published author and 2015 winner of the Nigerian Writers’ Award for Best Faith Based Fiction. Her readers are in love with her unique story telling that fuses faith, romance and African spice, capturing the essence of her present home base; Atlanta and her Nigerian culture. She is also the COO ofKevStel Group LLC and resides in Atlanta with her husband and two kids.